Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Laugh Track

For a long time after we were married, Michael had a standard joke that went like this. We would be with other people, and I might – in passing ­ ­– mention my ex-husband. Michael would feign shock. “What?!? You’ve been married before??”

It always got laughs from people who hadn’t heard it yet. But it got old for me pretty quick,  and I never found the perfect comeback.

The joke was that of course he knew I’d been married before. So it was kind of a slapstick humor, which isn’t his style. So why did he do it, and why did it bug me so much?

I still don’t know why he did it (he’s not here right now for me to ask, so he can blog about that on his own time). I’m guessing there was some level of discomfort in marrying an older woman, made even more so by the fact that I had once promised myself to someone else. Maybe he didn’t want to be reminded of that.

It was a brief marriage, made when I was barely 21 and finished four years later. But those were formative years, and working through the emotional wreckage took a while. Now, that seems like another life. (And another blog post; stay tuned.)

So why did his joke bother me? Maybe because it seemed repetitious and silly. But also, it felt as though it erased part of my life and therefore part of me. My first protests about the joke were mild, but they got more vigorous when he didn’t stop.

And then he heard me, and the joke stopped. Now, heading into our 19th year of marriage, I’m the one who’s sometimes amazed that I’ve been married before.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Our AARP photo shoot

good photos by Bill Miles

I did not want our photo shoot to be on Wednesday.

Kaimin, the dog, had a surgery appointment, and my 5:30 p.m. class in longform nonfiction narrative required me to carefully read six LONG student papers. I didn’t even know what was going on in Sheri’s life; she was out of town.

“Any day after Wednesday,” is what I told the assistant photo editor at the famous national magazine. “Any day but Wednesday.”

So, of course, we decided on Wednesday. When AARP The Magazine wants your picture – like, now – it’s hard to say no.

Please wear dark washed jeans, the photo assistant instructed us. Warm tones. No logos or hats or sunglasses.

Why did AARP want our picture? I’ve written an essay for the magazine, scheduled to appear in the coming September/October issue. The essay isn’t about Sheri and me, but our age difference plays a big part. Therefore: a photo shoot.

I knew that the photog would take a few hours out of our Wednesday. What I didn’t know is how he’d change Tuesday. When the nation’s largest circulation magazine sends a photographer to take a picture inside your wife’s house, well, you’ve just made her life a whole lot busier.

Sheri suddenly became Martha Stewart’s neater twin – on meth. She cleaned, she straightened, she eliminated the clutter of our everyday lives. Business cards on the fridge? In the drawer! The dog food containers? Banished to the basement! That bowl of coupons? Ha! We aren’t the sort of people who use coupons.

Bill with the shirt Sheri vetoed.
 Photo by Michael
She even got a haircut, all while I was at school for the last day of classes. When I came home, the house was beautiful but also, in its way, naked. I found a place to hide my keys, then grabbed the vacuum cleaner and added to the spic and the span. Later we picked out our dark, washed jeans and our warm tones. Sheri vetoed the comfy old shirt I chose. “I think that nice blue one is neater,” she said. Herself, she tried on three tops before choosing the one. Sagely, I approved of all three.

The next day, Bill the Photog arrived. He brought an assistant named David, a Jeep full of photo equipment, and a perfect smile. We gave him the run of the house, and soon he’d picked out the settings for our shoot: backyard, bed, big green chair in living room. He’d also judged my shirt to be too something and asked whether I had anything else. I showed him my closet. He picked out the shirt Sheri had vetoed.

I gloated. Though maybe it’s not so good to have a better AARP fashion sense than your older wife’s.

Bill and David were fun to have around. They were efficient and pleasant. Bill has shot for some big companies, including Lexus, Land’s End, and the drug company Pfizer. He’s got the commercial photographer’s exquisite sense of how to create in one photograph a world where everything is easy with joy. He got us to laugh with each other, even after a day of manic house cleaning.

Ask your doctor.
And when he used tape to get a window blind drawstring out of the background of a shot, I knew Sheri was right to have insisted we clean up our clutter. In the world of ease and light, where we lived for a few minutes on Wednesday, the only strings allowed are the ones that make you dance.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Getting Older, Staying Young

Sheri and Doss (right) on the Appalachian Trail
As older women go, my sister is fairly young. She turned 65 last month, and after pondering how to observe her birthday, she invited me and other women friends for a hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut.

We did the hike last weekend, a four-mile trek from Hoyt Road north to Bull’s Bridge. There were nine of us, ranging from 50-something to mid-70s. It was a great day for hiking: overcast and cool, but no rain. The muted sun made the emerging greenery more sumptuous, and we stopped for jack-in-the-pulpits, columbine and lavish displays of ferns.

Some of us faced challenges. My sister, Doss, has two artificial knees and is a breast cancer survivor. Our friend Susan has her own knees, but they don’t serve her well. Still, she gamely hiked to the top of Ten-Mile Hill and down again and discovered that her body did not let her down. Another friend, in her 60s, had never peed in the woods. This trip was her first time.

My big sister Doss has an old soul that stays young by looking for adventure (she’s been to the Ice Hotel in Sweden and followed Charles Darwin’s course in the Galapagos). But she also seeks out other points of view, listens to people’s stories, gives stuff away, finds new friends, and is willing to change her life when it’s necessary.

Not yet at the end of the trail
And whether you’re married to a younger man or not (she’s not), that willingness to reinvent is what draws people to you.

At the end of our hike, we ate lunch on a rock at the edge of the Housatonic River, near a covered bridge where George Washington had ridden. We celebrated with cupcakes. Then we asked a man to take a picture of all of us on the rock.  Prehistoric rock, historic bridge, not-so-old ladies.

When he had captured our smiles and went back to his wife and young children, we could hear his wife say this:  I hope I have that many friends to hike with when I’m that old. Indeed. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The HimPlus Mix-Tape

Vote for your fave. And tell us which songs you would add.

1. The HimPlus Mix-Tape starts, naturally, with "Mrs. Robinson" by the Lemonheads. What? Who were you expecting?

2. "Baby Man," from the great bluesy-jazz piano player Gene Harris. It's an instrumental, so no lyrics. Probably that's a good thing. You can make up your own.

3. She'll be your pacifier. Ann Peebles says, "Come to Mama."

4. Ella Fitzgerald's first song on this list: "You Make Me Feel So Young."

5. Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About" was on the radio when we started dating. We took inspiration from Bonnie's sassy ways.

6. Ella2: "They All Laughed." Ha.

7. I love Sarah Vaughn's version of "Experience Unnecessary." But this video featuring Donna Theodore is the grooviest.

8. Grand finale: Coo-coo-ca-choo.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rock, revisited

     In the previous post (Rock, Paper), Michael suggests that the decision to carve our names in a rock was made impulsively on the day we came across a stone carver in rural Pennsylvania in the summer of ‘92.  What a lark! Tra-la!”  he would have you think.
     But his memory is flawed. We had been living together barely a month when he suggested it, and it took me another month to agree. In my journal, I put my anxiety about that rock — and a relationship with a man 17 years younger  – on paper.

Wednesday, July 22, 1992
My boyfriend wants to carve our names in stone, a prospect that has filled me with angst since he first suggested it a month ago.
Etched in stone? What if we break up?
Then we walk to the middle of the Cochecton-Damascus bridge and toss it into the Delaware River, he says.
We are living on the Delaware for the summer, having taken leaves from our jobs and pooling our possessions for the first time after a year and a half. This summer arrangement isn’t really “living together,” I have told him. It’s just that we’re taking an extended three-month vacation together.
But after almost two months, I cherish the routines we’ve established together. I like the sound of him in the next room. I love hearing the door slam and knowing it is him, coming home. Mostly alone in the woods, our worst fight has been over how to make chocolate chip cookies.
Still, I haven’t thought of this as permanent. Not that I’m looking to leave. I just haven’t dared to think that a relationship of two people separated by 17 years could last.
Are you still thinking I’ll leave you when  you’re 67 and I’m 50? he asked this morning.
Actually, I worry it will happen sooner than that – say, when I’m 57 and he’s 40 (midlife crisis!) or when I’m 47 and he’s 30 (reality arrives at 30!)
But he has an equanimity about these matters. And although it signifies a commitment, carving our names in stone seems a natural step to him.
I’ve thought of this as permanent for a long time now, he says.
I have found all sorts of obstacles to throw at the idea. What if we don’t live together after the summer – who gets the stone? Will it have a hyphen? I don’t want a hyphen. Where will we put it? How big will it be? I want the perfect stone. I want it this way, or that way. I’m scared.
I’m scared you’ll carve our names in stone, and then you’ll leave, or I’ll leave and that stone won’t. You could throw it in the Delaware River, but – wouldn’t you know it – the water’s shallow there at the bridge and it would land face up. Or, worse, when the water runs low it would even be uncovered, and then I’ll have to wade out there and move it.
Michael doesn’t see all these pitfalls.
If it were wood you could burn it and the letters would be no more. With stone it would take eons to wear away. There is not enough silt and grit in all the Delaware to wear away those names in my lifetime. Maybe that’s the idea.
OK. But  just the names. No hearts or any of that stuff. Just the names. And no hyphen.